Primas was born and raised in Camden, and as a boy had to walk past an all-white school to attend a school for black children, according to Howard Gillette, a history professor at Rutgers-Camden who has written extensively about the city,
Primas graduated from Howard University in 1971 and became a leader of the Black People's Unity Movement, an activist group in the city that tried to promote economic rights. He was elected to City Council when he was 23, quickly rising to become its president.
In 1981, he became the city's first African American mayor. He was elected twice more before Gov. Jim Florio appointed him to head the state Department of Community Affairs in 1990.
After that state job, he became an executive at Commerce Capital, a division of Commerce Bank, now TD Bank.
In 2002, he was appointed Camden's chief operating officer, a position he held until resigning in 2006 in a dispute with state Community Affairs Commissioner Susan Bass Levin, a fellow Camden County Democrat, over a memorandum of understanding that he refused to sign.
Though Primas oversaw the redevelopment of housing in Camden and construction of the first new school in decades in his state position, he waged an uphill fight against the city's decline while mayor.
As mayor, Primas' support for urban-renewal projects such as the construction of the now-demolished Riverfront State Prison angered many in the city's black community, according to Gillette.
Primas also was a longtime ally of former State Sen. Wayne Bryant, a Camden County Democrat now serving a four-year jail sentence on corruption charges.
Before entering politics, Primas was a vice president of Burger King Entities.
Contact Joseph A. Gambardello at 856-779-3844 or firstname.lastname@example.org.